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URBANA — Former astronaut Scott Altman is one of two University of Illinois graduates honored with this year’s Order of Lincoln, the state’s highest honor for professional achievement and public service.

Altman and UI alumnus Robert Fraley, a former Monsanto executive recognized as the “father of agricultural biotechnology,” are among five Lincoln Laureates announced Friday by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The others are former NBA All-Star and coach Doug Collins, a Chicago Bulls executive who grew up in Benton; diplomat Donald McHenry, who grew up in East St. Louis and served as U.N. ambassador under President Jimmy Carter; famed blues/gospel singer and civil-rights activist Mavis Staples, a Chicago native; and Dr. Joanne Smith, president and CEO of the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, formerly Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

They will be honored by The Lincoln Academy at an April 18 ceremony and gala at Illinois State University.

“With their achievements in science, medicine, public service, the arts, agriculture and athletics, these distinguished Illinoisans have made our state proud,” Pritzker said in a release. “They have worked tirelessly to improve the lives of the people of Illinois, and I’m so proud to award them with our state’s highest honor.”

Altman, a 1981 UI graduate who grew up in Pekin, is a veteran of four space shuttle missions and a Navy captain, engineer and test pilot. He retired from NASA in 2010 and is now senior vice president for civil programs at ASRC Federal Engineering, Aerospace and Mission Systems. He was inducted in the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2018.

Fraley, a World Food Prize Laureate, is recognized for developing the first genetically modified crops to help farmers battling damaging pests and weeds. Raised on a farm outside Hoopeston, Fraley decided early on that he wanted to use science to develop better technology for farmers. He earned a Ph.D. in microbiology and biochemistry from the UI and has become a leading voice for innovation in agriculture.


Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).